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The Parallel Lives of Beginnings and Ends

October 10, 2013 by Kiersi

riding into the sunset

I had a post go up yesterday on YA Stands about “Preparing for National Novel Writing Month,” where I talked briefly about my outlining process. The most important thing I need to have in my head (or, preferably, down on digital paper) before I launch into a new manuscript? The beginning image of the story, and the ending image.

I use this phrase “image” intentionally. I don’t think it’s necessary–at least in my process–to know all the details before diving into a first draft. But what I need to know is:

Point A: Where the story begins. The tone, style, and voice; the immediate image I want to place in my reader’s mind.

Point B: Where the story ends up–usually parallel to the opening image (Point A) in tone, style, and voice, but changed, now that the character and plot arcs are complete. If the story opens with a man riding into town on a horse, then it makes sense for him to ride out of town on a horse at the end. (Even better if he comes in at sunrise, and leaves at sunset.) He is, of course, not the same man he was before, as a result of his time spent in the town.

National Novel Writing Month logoThe cinematic element–that visual image–is really important for me, personally, as a writer. It gives texture to the whole novel. Last year, before starting NaNoWriMo on November 1st, I sat down and wrote out just those two things:

Point A. Point B. Where do my heroes start? Where do they end? The coexisting contrast and parallel is a great way to put down, on paper, what’s going to happen. If your character starts a lawless rogue, but leaves a hero of the people–well, then, I have a good idea of what needs to happen in that middle section.

That’s where I start my character and plot arcs. How does my hero grow and change between Point A and Point B? What story do I need to weave around the character arc to effect that change?

I still believe it’s smart to have somewhat of an outline to go on for that middle section–but knowing my opening and closing images, as if it were a film reel, is a great guiding signpost.

A lot of folks go into NaNoWriMo not knowing all the parts and pieces of their story, and that’s fine. That works for some people. But I like to have a basic road map (one that will, most likely, change significantly once I sink my claws into the story) to get me started, and to glance at when I run into an idea block. Sometimes I’ll just work with a scratch pad of characters and sub-plots that could tie into the main story, should they prove appropriate, and draw from it when necessary.

But always, I keep my Point B in mind: where am I going to end up? What events absolutely must occur in order to wind up with my closing image?

Because it’s so satisfying to reach that point, and know exactly how it ends. To close the loop you started at the beginning, even if it’s not tied with a bow.

Because even if he’s leaving his lady and his new town folk behind, he looks so damn good riding off into the sunset.


7 Comments »

  1. Sometimes I write the ending first because I need a clear Point B, so I totally get what you’re saying.

  2. EmJay says:

    I always write the middle or end first, I have such a hard time writing the beginning if I don’t. Most of the time anyway bits and bobs of my stories that pop in my head take place way after the start of the story.

    • Kiersi says:

      That’s the perfect way to do it! Then you know your endgame, and the middle parts are the hardest. Anyway, your story should be about the meat, not the beginning 🙂

  3. Chrys Fey says:

    I don’t write the end before it’s time to write it, but when I get an idea for a story I always know the beginning and end almost simultaneously. Then I create a plot outline to get my story from point A to B. It’s just easier for me that way and helps me to stay focused. 🙂

    • Kiersi says:

      I’m the same way! I rarely write out of order, but I do plot. For the same reason. Keeps you focused and moving forward, because endings are so satisfying to write 🙂

  4. Jim Snell says:

    Have you read the book “Save the Cat”? It’s about screenwriting, but Blake Snyder advocates essentially the same thing, especially that the start and end have a kind of mirror image.

    Personally, I rarely do it quite that way. I generally need a good title or good first line to get a story going. And often don’t figure out the ending until I’m maybe 1/3 through. And probably more often change it when I get there. (Sometimes I’ll be writing along thinking I’m on the way to the end and suddenly realize: Oh, that should be the last sentence here!)

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